Vaginal discharge is probably something that's less talked about than periods. Those sex ed classes taught us about puberty and menstruation (at the very least on a basic level), but vaginal discharge has never been discussed. That may leave you wondering: Is my discharge normal? And what the hell is this stuff?
It's completely normal to have vaginal discharge; every person with a vagina produces it. Changes in vaginal discharge can even help you identify if something is wrong down there.
What is Discharge?
Vaginal discharge is a substance produced by the female reproductive system that comprises mostly water, micro-organisms and vaginal cells. The glands in the cervix and walls of the vagina are "activated" by the hormone estrogen to shed old cells and flush them out in the form of a sticky mucus.
Vaginal discharge can vary from person to person, and also depends on where you are in your menstrual cycle. Most women experience vaginal discharge at some point, but some women have it more often or in larger amounts than others.
What is the Purpose of Discharge?
In terms of cleanliness, your vagina is pretty low-maintenance. It has self-cleaning abilities, producing fluids that cleans up old cells and unwanted bacteria, and flushing them out of the body as - you guessed it - discharge. This helps to prevent infections and keeps your vagina clean.
Is My Discharge Normal?
Most women have vaginal discharge, but the amount of discharge produced is different for each woman. Some have a little discharge now and then; some have discharge every day. What's "normal" for you can change several times throughout your life, due to factors like pregnancy and menopause. It can also vary throughout the different stages of your menstrual cycle.
Other than the amount of discharge produced, the odour and colour may differ as well. Normal discharge should be a clear to milky-white colour, and have a familiar musky scent. In between periods, you may experience clear, slippery and odourless discharge that suggests ovulation.
A cheesy odour is not normal.
The following changes in your discharge can indicate a problem:
- change in odour (especially an unpleasant odour)
- change in colour (especially greenish, grayish, or anything looking like pus)
- change in texture (such as foamy or looking like cottage cheese)
- vaginal itching, burning, swelling, or redness
- vaginal bleeding or spotting that is not a menstrual period
Here are some types of abnormal discharge and their causes.
|Type of Discharge||Possible Causes||Other Symptoms|
|Thick, white, like cottage cheese||Yeast Infection||Swelling and pain around the vulva, itching, painful sexual intercourse|
|Green, yellow or grey in colour, frothy, has a bad smell||Trichomoniasis||Pain and itching while urinating|
|White, yellow or grey in colour, with a fishy odour||Bacterial vaginosis||Itching or burning, redness and swelling of the vagina or vulva|
|Cloudy or yellow||Gonorrhea||Bleeding between periods,urinary incontinence, pelvic pain|
|Bloody or brown||Irregular menstrual cycles, or less often, cervical or endometrial cancer||Abnormal vaginal bleeding,pelvic pain|
If you have abnormal discharge with other symptoms, please see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will most likely ask you several questions about your medical history, your symptoms, menstrual cycle and sexual activity. Your doctor will also give you a full-body physical exam, and examine your pelvic area.
Avoid scented soaps in the vulva area.
Tips to Prevent Infections
Practicing good hygiene is the best way to prevent infections that lead to abnormal discharge. Here are some tips:
- Wear breathable cotton undies, and avoid overly tight clothing
- Avoid scented soaps and feminine products
- Wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria getting into the vagina and causing infections
- Don't use douches as they can remove useful bacteria
- Keep the vulva area clean by washing regularly with mild soap and warm water
Don't be grossed out by your vaginal discharge. It's normal to have discharge, which helps to keep your vagina clean, and acts as an indicator when something might be off down there.
If you use pantyliners daily to catch discharge, why not get cloth pantyliners? Our Eco Femme Pantyliners come in a 3-pack and are perfect for everyday use. They're more comfortable than disposable liners that tend to bunch up in the middle. You're also reducing waste and saving the Earth at the same time!